Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Serendipity and #oer17

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That’s my favorite photo of a Virtually Connecting session ever! Thanks Josie Fraser! I could write poetry about it, but this is my reflections on #oer17 post, so I will refrain. Will also refrain from commenting on the horror that is going on in the world and my own country. For now I am speechless on that.

I wrote most of what’s going to end up in this blogpost on the plane on paper.

It starts with this. Pauline Ridley, in the Virtually Connecting session with me and Laura Ritchie the first day (watch all of em here)…saying she disagreed with me on the necessity of nurturing our seeds. That there are instances in gardening where people randomly throw seeds and you see what happens. That’s a really interesting counter example. It’s interesting because, often, some of the best that happens in learning is not necessarily intentional (also the worst, but that’s another story). I value spontaneity and serendipity so much, in life, in teaching, online, vconnecting, and even in this particular conference and in my keynote which I had been preparing for many months. The thing i was thinking now, is that even randomly throwing seeds, even if you don’t nurture them,  can be great but can also fail miserably in the wrong environment. So randomly throwing seeds in the desert probably won’t produce anything. Because no soil, no rain. But randomly throwing seeds in a fertile environment can be great. Right?
Giving a keynote at an event like #oer17 was really special. I felt so at home, knew half the people there and enjoyed lots of hugs before and after and even during the keynote (thanks Sheila!). I thought it was particularly interesting how looking back at tweets and recognizing what I said that resonated with people… And also seeing how people kept repeating certain parts of my keynote – it helped me rethink what was important about what I said, or at least what resonated with this audience, virtual and onsite.

For example, I shared my slides ahead of time, mainly because my laptop wasn’t with me and I just wanted to check all would be ok before i got there. I polled people and most encouraged me to share. They’re up at www.mahabali.me/oer17 + link to video + feedback form. I did this mostly for logistical reasons but folks also liked it. Slides are also commentable, if you like 🙂

Speaking of serendipity, one metaphor that seemed to resonate with many people was the one related to gift giving. This wasn’t written into my 80+ slides, it was something I read a couple days before my trip, in the intro to the recently published book on Open Edu Co-edited by Rajiv Jhangiani and Robert Biswas-Diener (i still remember the look on Rajiv’s face when I mentioned his name in the keynote haha -i feel bad for not remembering co-editor name…but i was being spontaneous! Sorry Robert. Book is entitled “Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science”). I mean, I took the metaphor and twisted it to focus on what I wanted to say, but still 🙂 I also hadn’t planned to refer to the actual exchange of gifts I had had with several people ahead of my keynote. It was planned, on my side, that certain people would get certain gifts and others would choose. Strangely, the extra special people didn’t get a choice! Which is funny given how I talked about gift-giving in the keynote as something we should be careful of…are we gifting people what they want or what would make us feel better? I could see the apples for toothless person story being repeated a lot in the conference and in blogposts following the conference (thanks to my friend who said it to me).

My mention of ALT at the beginning of the keynote was rather serendipitous also. I am pretty sure I planned some sort of thank you. But the part about recognizing the impact ALT do despite being such a small organization in terms of full-time staff, I had just learned the night before chatting with Maren.

The Little Miss Helpful thing worked well. Yay. The interaction with audience worked mostly well 🙂 Yay. Including a couple spontaneous interactions with people I didn’t know beforehand (thanks to Sue and Janice for those) and really added a LOT of value. I hoped to make lots of eye contact during the keynote and I did – including a well-timed thumbs-up from Frances Bell (re-watching the video, I could tell exactly which moment it happened!)

More serendipity happened throughout the conference, like Autumm being able to make it to OER17 and us managing to basically spend all the days together such that Autumm became part of my family for those days. Also serendipitous that Audrey could be in the UK at the same time and that we managed some social time as well as day 1 of the conference. And serendipitous that I mey Catherine Cronin at the airport on our way back! Not anywhere in the airport, we were actually right in front of her at the security check-in! How cool is that?

Back to the conference.

It was amazing staying at the same hotel were most organizers, keynotes and some speakers were staying. We got lots of social time with folks evenings and at breakfast and my kid flitted around like a social butterfly giving love and hugs to so many of them, even those she had never met before. Folks got kinda used to joining my family and me for breakfast, kinda by default 🙂

Going to the conference the first day with Josie and Alek in the taxi, strangely, we chatted about CC licenses and that conversation relates to the question I was asked in the keynote.

The slide in my keynote that compares the spirit of openness vs licenses seemed to resonate with many people and it was one of the slides I added pretty late (like a couple days before). Glad I kept it.

Meeting Diana Arce the night before the conference was a treat and listening to her keynote was amazing. It helped me rethink everything and I am still thinking of how to learn from what she does (and even ask her help) for online and hybrid spaces like vconnecting but also for pedagogy and activism in general. How do we go where the people are and involve them rather than invite them to where we are to be mere spectators? How can I take this to my local activism and my digital activism? Still thinking. And vconnecting. It made me wonder if vconnecting sessions out in the open and noise can be better than in closed rooms. For #oer17 we had a combination of them in different spaces and I think that worked well. Some were in the café downstairs and visible to all. Even from outside as you can see from Josie’s photo. Some were in conference rooms – closed, but sessions would take place immediately afterwards and people would trickle in to watch and occasionally join in. Some were in the main conference hall at end of day. One was the walk-by by the staircase. It was a cool combination to reflect on.

I attended several sessions that day. My own #trexit panel which I had been worried about (tired, unprepared) but it went wonderfully because the format of provocations from virtual folks (and our choice of awesome virtual folks Robin DeRosa, Nadine Aboulmagd, Chris Gilliard ane David Kernohan) was really quite perfect. Jim Luke posted everything here and Autumm Caines periscoped it here. It was awesome sitting beside Martin Weller and Lorna Campbell for this one – thanks to Jim for bringing us together!

It was kinda serendipitous that I mentioned my #DoOO post in the keynote and Frances republished it during the conference on #femedtech (direct link to the post here). I enjoyed spending time with some great edtech women over lunch the first day but had to leave early for…

…my vconnecting session with Laura/Pauline. With Autumm and Christian as onsite buddies. And a great virtual group joining us. We then had our vconnecting presentation which was great but v short, in hindsight. Slides here.

I found presentations by Tanya Dorey-Elias, Rob Farrow and Muireanne O’Keefe really insightful. I know I attended more stuff but near end of day my mind was mush – I do remember Kate Green’s presentation though (rejuvenated at closing keynote time though).

The next morning we had a fun ride to the conference with all the people participating in the morning vconnecting session in one car: Diana, Sheila, Alek, Autumm and me. That’s a photo of that session at the top of this blogpost.

Lucy’s keynote inspired me to finally get on and get my students editing Wikipedia. I hadn’t done it before because i had experienced the trauma of getting work deleted on Wikipedia. But given my mention of different versions of reality on Wikipedia and lack of non-English content, I thought it might be just right to prep students for this with their eyes wide open as to what could happen to their edits. It maybe makes more sense for the particular course I am hoping to teach next semester inshallah.

I learned a lot from sessions by Rajiv Jhangiani and Sukaina Walji that second day – helped me think of ways one can research open processes and impact. I also had some great private conversations with people I didn’t know beforehand and some nice whispering with friends during some sessions (I didn’t want to be snarky on Twitter this time around – and honestly the sessions were mostly great and I didn’t have too much to snark about anyway…).

I ended the conference with the #TowardsOpenness session (webpage here) – the format for this was also really good because they again used provocations from some awesome people and asked us to work in groups (mine was Jeffrey Keefer, Suzan Koseoglu, Autumm Caines and me) to rapidly prototype ideas. I had to leave before the reporting out, but all the stuff is on their website here AND we are holding a Missed Conversation on Vconnecting Wednesday April 12 at 8pm GMT if you want to join.

The closing session (which I watched but couldn’t attend) was really well done, I thought. Every conference should end in group reflections like these. Really well done.

I’m almost at work now but wanted to make a quick few points

  1. Simon Ensor made me think; he was one of the virtual folks whose presence I felt v strongly at this event. These two blogposts resonated and made me realize that even though #oer17 was a great conference, harmonious people, even critically constructive people, we can always do better still. He deserves a longer response
  2. This by Kate Green  made me smile
  3. This by Sheila MacNeill made my cry (for joy)
  4. This by Frances Bell is her summary of my keynote (thanks Frances!)

And now I hit publish! Thanks to all who made this an amazing experience

One Comment

  1. Thanks (as ever ) for sharing Maha. You were an inspiration to us all. As ever you and your country are in my thoughts and prayers.

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